FuboTV: An Underdog with Upside

Screenster Banner Silverman

FuboTV is an underdog in the virtual MVPD market for a number of reasons; let’s start with two. First, there’s the obvious reality of competing with services backed by established pay-TV providers (Dish’s Sling TV and DirecTV Now) and digital powerhouses (YouTube TV and Hulu). Second, and perhaps more crucial, is the fact that its target audience—sports fans—has proven to be among the most reluctant to cut the cord in the early days of streaming TV.

“That has been a big part of the problem we’re trying to address,” Fubo CMO/co-founder Alberto Horihuela told Cablefax’s Screenster. “As a sports fan, up until recently, it was extremely difficult to cut the cord and keep your sports. … When you look at the rest of the market, frankly, if you want to get as much sports as you do right now on cable, you might end up paying as much, if not more than what you’re paying right now on cable.”

Convincing sports fans that FuboTV is a viable fill-in for cable is a challenge that Fubo’s marketing department, led by Horihuela and newly hired vp, head of North American marketing Yale Wang, hope their first TV ad campaign will help address. The effort, which launched at the start of the NFL season and is slated to run through Week 6, stars actor Michael Varamogiannis as spokesperson Fubo Chavez, a diehard European soccer fan adapting to the culture of American football.

Wang said Chavez and his “edgy” antics are endearing to the young male audience (18-34) that Fubo is trying to attract in the early going.

“We wanted a message that would cut through the noise and precisely position us, and we felt the best way to do that was through a mascot or spokesperson, if you will, who was basically the world’s biggest sports fan,” Wang said. “It’s really a nice way to introduce the brand to those who might not have known us.”

The campaign corresponds with a promotion offering the first two months of service for $19.99 each before reverting to the regular price of $34.99/month (Update: The price will increase in October for new subscribers). Like everyone in the skinny bundle market, Fubo is constantly performing the balancing act of offering the most compelling channel lineup at a price that is appealing enough for customers to take a leap of faith, but that also works financially.

Sports channels make up more than half of Fubo’s 65-channel lineup, including many nets that are part of premium sports tiers on traditional cable systems. Fubo also offers CBS, NBC and Fox for nationally broadcast games and Fox- and NBC-owned RSNs in many markets, allowing fans to watch their local teams. There is one fairly significant outlier, however, that will likely alienate some fans: ESPN.

As cable operators know well, ESPN’s flagship station alone can change the economics of a bundle with its reported $8 price tag (Fubo declined to comment on whether it pays similar rates to MVPDs). Still, Horiheula acknowledged the importance of adding ESPN and is hopeful that it could happen.

“We would love to have ESPN on the platform and, in fact, we have had many conversations and are still in the process of speaking with Disney, so there could be a horizon where ESPN is part of the bundle,” he said. “It’s really just a function of making sure that we have the right package where the economics make sense for the consumer.”

Facing hefty competition, skepticism from sports fans toward cord-cutting and an inherent focus on the most expensive programming on the market, Fubo has its fair share of obstacles to overcome. If it’s is successful in raising brand awareness and adding ESPN while keeping its bundle affordable, however, it could very well shake sports fans’ loyalty to the almighty pay-TV bundle and become a go-to for millennial sports fans.

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